China approves security of first gene-edited crop

China has approved the safety of a gene-edited soybean, its first approval of the technology in a crop, as the nation increasingly looks to science to boost food production.

The soybean, developed by privately-owned Shandong Shunfeng Biotechnology, has two modified genes, significantly raising the level of healthy fat oleic acid in the plant.

The safety certificate has been approved for five years from April 21, according to a document published last week by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs.

Unlike genetic modification, which introduces foreign genes into a plant, gene editing alters existing genes.

The technology is considered to be less risky than GMOs and is more lightly regulated in some countries, including China, which published rules on gene-editing last year.

"The approval of the safety certificate is a shot in the arm for the Shunfeng team," said the firm in a statement on Thursday. Shunfeng claims to be the first company in China seeking to commercialise gene-edited crops.

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It is currently researching around 20 other gene-edited crops, including higher yield rice, wheat and corn, herbicide-resistant rice and soybeans and vitamin C-rich lettuce, said a company representative.

Several additional steps are needed before China's farmers can plant the novel soybean, including approvals of seed varieties with the tweaked genes. (Reuters)

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